By Christine R. Valeriann
Principal at Marcom360 Consulting; Marketing Adjunct Instructor at Johns Hopkins University, Towson University, University of Baltimore; Maryland Women’s Heritage Center volunteer
Fannie (Alexander) Cardozo was born c.1876 in Virginia, but at an early age went to live in Baltimore with her uncle, Rev. Dr. William M. Alexander and his wife. The Alexanders had no other children.
The founder and pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, her uncle was one of the “best-known colored leaders in the city.” He helped establish the widely-read Afro-American newspaper and had leadership roles in several organizations, including president of the (male) Suffrage League. Growing up in the household of a respected minister and community leader, Cardoza was well-educated and involved in many church, community and social activities.
Fannie Alexander passed her teaching exam in 1902 and began teaching kindergarten. Earlier, she had worked with Mrs. Alice E. Mitchell to open the first “playground for colored children” in Baltimore City in 1897, in the yard of the Waesche Street School. It remained the only playground serving the African American community for several years.
She met and married Dr. Francis N. Cardozo in 1909, after he finished Howard University medical school and moved to Baltimore. Her husband soon established himself as a local leader, practicing medicine from their home at 1524 Druid Hill Avenue for 44 years, helping organize the Baltimore NAACP branch, and serving on the national NAACP board for five years. The couple was prominent on the social scene and had one daughter, Edith .
The Cardozo home was located in the hub of the African American suffragist movement in Baltimore City at the time. While not mentioned as a member of any of the local women’s suffrage clubs, she ran in the same circles as many prominent African American suffragists.
In 1911, Cardozo opened her home for a monthly meeting of the DuBois Circle, the oldest surviving African American women’s organization in Baltimore. DuBois Circle membership was limited to two dozen carefully curated movers and shakers in the community; Cardozo was a member from 1908 through 1926.
While the group’s meetings were “concerned with a study of Negro authors, painters, and musicians” and intentionally not political, current events did make an occasional appearance on the meeting agenda. This was the case with the 1911 meeting hosted by Cardozo, which included several pro-suffrage presentations and the recitation of a humorous, pro-suffrage poem, entitled, Let Your Husband Know All Your Business.
Cardozo hosted another DuBois Circle monthly meeting in 1913, and led the discussion on noted African American writer, abolitionist, and suffragist Frances E.W. Harper at a monthly meeting in 1915. At the meeting on November 9, 1920, Cardozo led the discussion on “Aims of Our Government: Democracy,” mere days after women were able to vote for the first time in the United States.
When her uncle died in 1919, he left his beloved niece his house (one block up from the Cardozo home), household effects, library, $500, and half of the residual money after funeral expenses were paid. This likely elevated Cardozo’s position in the community and increased her ability to influence matters important to her.
Starting in the 1930s, she had several bouts of illness, hospital stays, and going “off to the knife.” After an illness lasting three months, Cardozo died on January 27, 1953 at Johns Hopkins Hospital and was buried in Arbutus Memorial Park.
Cardozo’s social and community activities are documented in The Baltimore Afro-American and The Baltimore Sun. Her involvement with the DuBois Circle is documented in the programs and minutes of the group’s meticulously maintained archives. Her inheritance is documented in “Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Court of Appeals of Maryland, Volume 135: Maryland Court of Appeals.”